A Broken Family

Let me preface this post with the admission that I come from a broken family.  My parents separated when I was already in my 20s, but coming from a typical family, we were still all living at home with Mom and Dad at the time.  Dad didn’t go very far — he just moved to another property we had a few minutes away from our house.  I was around 23 or 24 then, already in law school, but our youngest, Nikky, was only 5 or 6.  It is all a blur to me now but I do recall that when my favorite Aunt passed on, Nikky was already 7 — and Mom and Dad had been separated at least a year since then.

We were pretty grounded so the separation was more of a relief than a source of emotional upheaval for my siblings and me.  We were more worried about Nikky who was everybody’s baby.  Now that he is 20 years old and a junior in college, I can see that he survived the separation of our parents rather well.  I am very proud of the way he has grown up to be a loving and responsible young man, and I am confident that he will make something of himself.  He strives so hard to make it through school and keeps modest ambitions to help himself and family by working towards being a Physical Therapist some day.

More than that, we have successfully imbibed in him a love of family which sees him thinking of his nephews and nieces when he thinks of the future.  He thinks of taking care of Mom and Dad and always has us, his siblings, in his heart.

So I know where I’m coming from when I speak of broken families.  It was not easy but as I said, it was more a relief for us.  My Mom had said she had resisted it for years and years because her Mother had admonished her to stick it through.  When she could no longer do that, she let go.

But this post isn’t about me.  I just wanted to give an introduction to something I wanted to write about. 

My stepson, now almost 16, also comes from a broken family.  His Mom now has a family of her own, and he has a 10 year old half brother (if I’m not mistaken) on that side.  My better half and his Mom divorced when he wasn’t even 2 years old, so he has grown up with his parents living in two different houses most of his life.  In essence, he woke up to this arrangement so in a sense, he was spared the abrupt break caused by separation of parents of older kids.

My husband and his ex-wife decided to do more than the mandated “every-other-weekend” transfer to the non-custodial parent, and the “every-other-holiday” celebration.  My stepson was with my husband and my in-laws EVERY weekend, all of summer, and all holidays.  They are only now discovering the folly of that decision.

There was nothing wrong in wanting to spend all that time with my stepson who was Alan’s only son, and up until the stepson was 11, the only grandchild in the family.  But as I explained to Alan just this past year, there is a reason for the law.  The ever-other-weekend is meant to give the child a sense of grounding so that he/she feels that he is part of the custodial parent’s home, and the every other weekend spent with the non-custodial parent is meant to preserve the ties with that parent despite the separation.

With the all-weekends here and schooldays spent in the other house, you cannot blame my stepson for feeling like he’s been shuttled from home to home.  So when he’s not in good terms with either parent, he would ask what the other has planned for the weekend and bases his decision on where to go on that, instead of thinking of wanting to spend time in this or that house.

The summers he spent with his Dad would come and go with nary a call from his Mom, and Alan would dismiss it as his ex-wife’s irresponsibility.  As a result, the stepson has grown up to think that you can lose touch with either side of the family despite special occasions and it would be alright.  If he is not spending time with us here, he can go for weeks on end without calling his Dad — after all, it was alright as far as his Mom was concerned.

It’s not all Alan’s fault.. the ex-wife would let the kid’s birthday come and go without a greeting sometimes.  And as I had related, the whole summer would come and go and we wouldn’t get a call from her to say hello to her child, or at least ask how things are going.

What’s worse, my in-laws are blaming the fact that he came from a broken home as the reason why he is not performing in school.  It is already his second year as a freshman and from the looks of it, we would be lucky to see him becoming a sophomore first semester of next year.  He has been playing truant and has not been submitting homework or participating in class those days that he does go to school.  Typical teenager that he is, he has been defiant of authority and continues to challenge his Mom and Dad.

Coming from a broken family cuts both ways — it can be a chip you carry on your shoulder that weighs you down, or which goads you on to make something of yourself despite the situation.  I think it’s a tired excuse to continue to waste years of your life having fun when the rest of the world is moving forward in the simplest responsibility children his age are expected to tackle.  We have stopped expecting him to pass his subjects but the father is asking him to at least attend and be present.  Once we resolve the truancy issue, then perhaps we can work on performing in school.  It’s already the second period of the first semester (the US school system has three grading periods for each of the two semesters of each school year), and his Language Arts teacher has been patiently writing us to report that she has yet to see the stepson.

He needs 10 credits to advance to his sophomore year, and after two semesters and one summer term, he only has 3 under his name.  Since he’s been flunking all of his subjects this first and second grading period, it looks like he will be lucky to pull even just 1 credit this semester.  That means that only a miracle of passing ALL his credits next semester is what will see him being a sophomore in September 2006.

At the rate he’s going, he’ll finish high school probably at age 20 or even older.  I refuse to charge that to the fact that he came from a broken family.  While part of it might be attributable to that, his constant refusal to diligently attend school is his personal choice and not connected to the fact that he is part of two homes.  As the Dad says, it’s a tired excuse.

Like all other things in life, we have a choice in how we go about living it.  No matter what our circumstances are, we have a choice, and our misfortunes can become our strength or our burden — how we move forward is up to us.